Outdoor Activities in Toronto: Visiting the Toronto Islands, Biking Along the Waterfront, or Exploring High Park (2023)
Toronto is a beautiful city in Ontario Province known for its stunning natural landscape and bustling city life. It seamlessly blends urban and outdoor living, and there’s never a dull moment when you are in Toronto. The vibrant lifestyle, stunning skyline, diverse culture, and immense natural beauty makes it a go-to city amongst domestic as well as international tourists. However, what attracts tourists the most in Toronto are the fun-filled and adventurous outdoor experiences. Just like the range of exciting indoor attractions, the outdoor landmarks in Toronto are equally impressive, and there is an abundance of them.
The three most famous outdoor activities to indulge in in Toronto includes Visiting Toronto Island, Biking along the Waterfront, and Exploring High Park. The Toronto Islands are basically a chain of 15 small islands. This landmark in Lake Ontario is just offshore. The islands are perfect for an adventurous getaway and also boast a serene escape at the same time. Locals and visitors in Toronto also enjoy biking along the waterfront. Whether you want to compete with friends or enjoy your own place, the Toronto waterfront is an exciting outdoor place to check out. And thirdly, the High Park is where tourists can move forward for their ultimate adventure. This largest park in the city is truly a hub with a range of common and surprising activities.
Outdoor Activities in Toronto: Visiting the Toronto Islands, Biking Along the Waterfront, or Exploring High Park
Keeping the curiosity alive, here we move forward to learn about the most exciting outdoor activities in Toronto. Whether you’re a Toronto local or a first-time visitor, you need to check out all the details below for an ultimate time in the city. With that said, let’s get started:
Visiting the Toronto Islands
The Toronto Islands, also known as Toronto Islands Park, is a must-visit place for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers in Toronto. This cluster of 15 small islands is located in Lake Ontario south of mainland Toronto. A short 13-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto allows individuals to access the island.
How to Reach: Individuals can take the ferry from either the Toronto Island Ferry or the Ward’s Island Ferry. The Toronto Island Ferry departs from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal right at the foot of Bay Street and Queens Quay. The said Terminal is easily accessible via TTC streetcar or bus. The Toronto Island Ferry departs throughout the week every half an hour from 6:30 am to 11:30 pm. Ferry boats take individuals to three islands (Centre, Hanlan’s, and Ward’s Island), all of which are connected to walk across. Similarly, the Ward’s Island Ferry departs from the same Terminal though it operates seasonally from May to September only. Picking a different route, this ferry service selectively stops at Centre Island and Ward’s Island. Both ferry services have plenty of room for strollers, bicycles, and wheelchairs. Ferry tickets are available online or right at the Terminal as well. The ticket price is for both ways.
Popular Things To Do In Toronto Islands:
Visit Centre Island Beach, Gibraltar Point Beach, Ward’s Island Beach, and Hanlan’s Point Beach. All these beaches are popular for a range of activities, including kayaking, swimming, paddleboarding, picnicking, or relaxing. Water at these beaches is mostly shallow and clear, making it an ideal place to enjoy with family and kids. Gibraltar Point Beach is the least crowded and secluded of them all. It, in fact, is also home to Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, the oldest exciting lighthouse on Great Lakes. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy panoramic views of Lake Ontario and Toronto Skyline.
- Explore the Far Enough Farm: This unique petting farm is a must-visit outdoor landmark in Toronto Islands. Operating since 1959, this small zoo is home to a variety of domestic and exotic animals. Some common animals you will come across here include cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits, peacocks, goats, sheep, llamas, and alpacas. Farm visitors can enjoy a range of activities like petting and feeding the animals, educational programs, and attending live animal shows. Far Enough Farm is home to a large population of peacocks and it is quite common to find these birds roaming freely around, dancing.
- Check out the Centreville Amusement Park: This family-friendly amusement park is nestled on Centre Island and is quite popular amongst kids and families. A visit to the park allows individuals to enjoy a variety of rides and attractions. Some common rides here include antique cars, a miniature roller coaster, the Ferris wheel, and bumpers cars. The amusement park is also home to an indoor pirate-themed mini-golf course and a Kiddie Zone. Kids can enjoy a mini Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, and a mini train ride. The park opens from May through September, and admission here is free. However, visitors have to pay for the rides and activities they want to participate in. In addition, visitors can either bring their own food and enjoy a picnic, or there are several food stalls at the park itself.
- Toronto Island Marina: This full-service marina is nestled adjacent to the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on the island’s western side. It is one of the largest marinas on the Great Lakes and is quite a happening place to checkout. Tourists here can enjoy a range of activities, boating programs, and other activities. The marina offers yacht charters, sailing lessons, and several places to chill around. It is also home to several restaurants and cafes, including the very popular Island Café and a snack bar.
- William Meany Maze: Another outdoor landmark in Toronto Islands’ Centre Island, it is named after William Meany. This Maze covers 2 acres featuring over 1,200 cedar trees and one of the largest hedge mazes in North America. The Maze includes multiple paths and dead ends and has no shortcuts. Participants have to go through different twists and turn to find the exit. The Maze opens from mid-April to mid-September seasonally and is quite a fun, unique and challenging attraction to check out.
- Take kids to Franklin Children’s Gardens: This delightful and interactive landmark in Toronto Island is a must-visit for kids. The garden is divided into several themes, each of which carries a unique concept. The Sensory Garden encourages kids to touch and smell plants with unique textures and smells. The Spiral Garden allows kids to climb a spiral path. The Water Garden allows kids to cool off in a splash pad. In contrast, Sunflower Maze allows kids to play and interact with a giant sunflower. The garden is open from May to October and also operates a tram for people who do not wish to walk.
- Involve in Hiking, Biking, Canoeing, and Kayaking: Toronto Islands is an exciting section of Toronto for outdoor enthusiasts. The islands boast a range of obvious but fun opportunities, including Hiking, biking, kayaking, bird watching, etc. For Kayaking and Canoeing, individuals can check out rental shops that offer hourly, daily, or weekly rentals. The calm and clear water near the islands caters to all skill levels. For Hiking, some of the popular Island trails include Island Park Trail, William Meany Maze, Waterfront Trail, and Gibraltar Point Nature Trail. In contrast, bikers can access the Lakeshore Trail while renting bikes for an hour, a day, or even a week. In addition, visitors can also go for nature and wildlife watching and spot Canadian geese, blue jays, and squirrels quite easily.
- Snacking and Dinning options in Toronto Islands: After getting done with all the outdoor adventure, visitors can relax with good food and exciting drinks. Some of the popular places to dine include the Island Café and Rectory Café. Both facilities serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner while offering stunning views of the Toronto skyline later. Visitors can also check out Toronto Island BBQ & Beer Co. for some amazing BBQ and craft beer. Or visit Island Mercantile, Carousel Café, or Island Yacht Club for diverse dining opportunities.
PRO TIP: Most of the activities and attractions of Toronto Islands are available on Centre Island.
Things To Know Before Visiting Toronto Islands: Important Tips
In addition to ferry rides, Toronto Island can also be reached by a private water taxi or a tender. However, if you are planning a ferry trip, book well in advance (online) to avoid cues. Make sure you take good cash along since some businesses on the island accept only cash.
- Soak yourself nicely in sunscreen during the day and bug spray during the evening. Make sure to pack some extra-long.
- Rent a bike or bring your own. However, if you bring your own, make sure you also bring its lock.
- Carry along a light jacket since Toronto Islands can be quite windy.
- Pack a picnic and enjoy it with a view.
- Do not smoke or drink in public areas on the island and follow all the rules and regulations.
Bike Along the Toronto Waterfront
Biking along the waterfront in Toronto is one of the most enjoyable ways to explore the city outdoors. It is common to find both locals and tourist cycling and biking along the waterfront, getting some fresh air and a daily dose of exercise. Biking along the waterfront allow individuals to access a range of attraction like CN Tower, Rogers Centre, and the Harbourfront Centre. Riders who are willing to take a detour can also check out Roncesvalles Village, Distillery District, and Liberty Village with some extra effort. Several bike rental services are available throughout the waterfront and in different parts of the city, catering to locals and tourists alike.
Some Popular Biking Trails for Exploring Toronto Waterfront
- The Martin Goodman Trail: This 56 kilometers biking trail runs from the west of Humber River to the east of Rouge River along the waterfront. It is popular amongst walkers, joggers, and cyclists for its stunning views of Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline. It also offers plenty of opportunities to stop at different lookout points, beaches, and parks.
- Waterfront Trail: It is part of a 1,600 km trail that stretches along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. However, its section in Toronto allows individuals to cycle along scenic views with several benches and parks in between.
- Don River Trail: This popular waterfront biking trail in Toronto connects the downtown core to the Don Valley Parkway. Its paved and unpaved paths offer an exciting and adventurous biking experience. Bikers can enjoy scenic views of the river and the parks around.
- Lower Don Trail: Running down the Port Lands to the downtown core, this trail wraps around the Don River. Cycling here allows individuals to enjoy some stunning Toronto Skyline views.
- Tommy Thompson Park Trail: Last is this unique trail on Leslie Street Spit. The park is home to a variety of habitats, wildlife, and birds. Biking and cycling here are more of a serene and rejuvenating experience.
Things To Know Before Biking Or Cycling At Toronto Waterfront
- As per the law of Ontario, bikers and cyclers must dress appropriately. Make sure you wear your helmet and other cycling/biking gears.
- Take along a water bottle, ensuring you stay hydrated throughout.
- Make sure you follow traffic rules and trail etiquette. Signal your turns, staying to the right, slow down when required, and give way to pedestrians.
- Be aware of construction and detours, and plan your route accordingly.
- Check the weather forecast before you head out for biking at the Toronto waterfront since the climate in this city changes drastically.
- Do take breaks in between to enjoy the scenery.
Exploring the High Park
High Park is the largest public park in Toronto, located on the west end of the city. It isn’t just another public park but an outdoor landmark with diverse opportunities. Spanning over 400 acres, the park is home to everything from educational facilities, cultural facilities, sporting facilities, a zoo, playgrounds, gardens, Flora, Fauna, parking areas, and more. 1/3rd section of High Park has a rare oak savannah ecology and is planned to remain in its natural state. Park’s landscape is slightly hilly, with two deep ravines. Not only outdoor landmarks, but High Park is also home to a range of indoor tourist attractions.
Popular Places and Activities in High Park, Toronto
- Visit the High Park Zoo: The High Park Zoo on Deer Pen Road operates year-round from 11 am to 7 pm. The zoo is accessible via the Parkside Road entrance. It is home to bison, deer, llamas, peacocks, highland cattle, etc. Visitors are allowed to picture the animals, however, without a flashlight since it can disturb their peace. The zoo, though, doesn’t allow feeding animals. There are plenty of places to walk and activities to try when in the zoo.
- Spend some time at Jamie Bell Adventure Playground: This popular landmark in High Park is devoted to a young boy who died in a tragic accident in 1995. The playground consists of multiple theme areas; however, its most prominent feature is the castle-themed play structure. It consists of towers, slides, tunnels, and bridges where kids can enjoy their hearts. There are also sandboxes, swings, and a splash pad for some added fun.
- Explore Hillside Gardens: This tranquil area in High Park is known for its stunning natural beauty. The garden features terraced gardens, walking paths, and multiple spots for picnic and relaxation. While relaxing, visitors can listen to the peaceful sound of the nearby waterfall for a perfectly rejuvenating experience. The walking trails here wind through the gardens introducing visitors to a variety of trees and plants.
- Checkout Grenadier Pond: This large water body located in the heart of the park is a popular spot for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and bird-watching. During the winter season, the pond froze, making a ground for ice skating. Its surrounding area is also popular for nature walking and wildlife watching. Wildlife like ducks, geese, swans, and turtles are common to spot here.
- Witness the beauty of Cherry blossoms: One of the major highlights of High Park is the Cherry Blossoms. The season here typically stretches from late April or early May featuring a stunning display of pink and white flowers. However, this picturesque natural phenomenon highly depends on the weather. The park can get quite crowded during peak bloom. The best time to visit is even before 10 am since after that parking gets full and the crowd is high.
Other popular features of High Park include Shakespeare plays by Canadian Stage, Adventure Garden for children with disabilities, High Park Labyrinth, Off-Leash Dog Park, and High Park Fire Station.
Things To Know Before Visiting High Park In Toronto
- High Park has ample parking space, but it fills up very quickly. It is best to either come via cycling or public transport to avoid the hassle.
- High Park is free to visit and is open to all.
- During special events, the park can be very crowded.
- Some common rules and regulations of the park include no smoking, no alcohol, and no off-leash dogs except in the dog park.
- High Park is wheelchair accessible though not all areas are comfortable for the same.
- The park is home to drinking fountains, food vendors, several picnic areas, and several washrooms.
- Check the park’s official website for schedules of annual events, cherry blossom, and more.